Cambridgeshire Family History Fair 2014

A look back at the Cambridgeshire Family History Fair, which took place on October 25th 2014 at Girton, Cambridge.

Yesterday saw the second Cambridgeshire Family History Fair take place – a free genealogy and local history event held in Girton’s Glebe School on the north side of Cambridge.

The Main Hall at the Cambridgeshire Family History Fair 2014.
The main Exhibition Hall at the Cambridgeshire Family History Fair 2014.

This year’s fair seemed much busier than last year, and although it seemed that there were fewer talks (one room, rather than two), this didn’t seem to affect the hustle and bustle in the main exhibition hall.

I went along for the whole day (10am-4pm), as I had my eye on 3 of the 4 expert talks, and also had a few genealogy hurdles that I wanted to try to resolve with the Suffolk Family History Society and the Norfolk Family History Society. I also hoped to bump into the postcard stall that I’d seen at last year’s fair… as I had a specific card to find.

Mike Petty MBE: Resources for Researching Cambridgeshire

My first talk of the day was the first time that I had attended a talk by Mike Petty MBE.

His fifty years of collectively working with the likes of The Cambridgeshire Collection, the Cambridgeshire Association for Local History (for which he is currently President), writing a weekly column for the Cambridge News, and being a seasoned lecturer and author for all things Cambridgeshire, has earned him an unrivalled knowledge of the history of the county, and the resources available to research it.

Mike admitted he’s not a genealogist – he’s a historian. This actually makes him a perfect speaker to genealogists, as his talk showed a full room how to get beyond the basics of censuses and BMDs, by digging out the more interesting information about Cambridgeshire that is tucked away in newspapers, in photographs, maps, and books.

As the audience were quickly scribbling down notes, Mike continued to show how to use online indexes to help make your next visit to a Cambridgeshire archives resource more time efficient. He spoke passionately about the vast card indexes that hold so many clues to resources, but which are themselves tucked away due to space limitations.

I’ll definitely make more effort to attend his talks in future – I feel like he could have talked for hours.

Postcard hunting

With a break between talks, I set myself off to see if I could find the Desira Postcards stall that I visited last year, and where I had bought one of two postcards of my Cross family’s bakery shop on Forehill, Ely.

Thankfully, the postcard I saw last year was still within their collection, so (ignoring the £8.50 price tag) I bought it, as it’s an example of how Frederick Thompson Cross was advertising his business. He died in 1911, after which his son Frederick Vernon Cross took over.

Advertising postcard for Frederick Thompson Cross' tea rooms on Forehill, Ely, prior to 1911.
Advertising postcard for Frederick Thompson Cross’ tea rooms on Forehill, Ely, prior to 1911.

Carl Warner: Crowdsourcing History at IWM Duxford

Having enjoyed the collaborative crowdsourcing Lives Of The First World War project that IWM launched earlier this year, I was keen to see what Carl Warner (Imperial War Museum Duxford’s Research and Information Manager) was going to tell us about their Second World War project: American Air Museum.

IWM American Air Museum
The IWM American Air Museum website has launched.

This time, Carl explained that IWM has just launched a new website containing around 15,000 photographs of the USAAF, and that members of the public can register and then add their own, whilst also discuss other images – in a hope to bring names to faces and places, and record the memories of those who remember the presence of American Airmen in Cambridgeshire during WWII.

My own Grandmother remembers the American airmen near Mepal, Cambridgeshire, and like many of her generation, it’s pretty much a story about eating ‘candy’ given to them. Little could she understand then as a child, that when she waved them off as they flew away, that many would never return.

Kathy Chater: How To Write Up Family History

Ex-BBC Researcher, turned professional genealogist, historian and author, Kathy Chater was my third and final expert speaker to listen in to. Her career background, like that of Richard Benson, would give me the impetus and expert advice I need to decide on how best to write up some of my own family history stories beyond the realms of this blog, and a characterless list of names and dates.

Kathy’s advice on breaking down your mountain of research into chunks and focussing on telling each piece of one person’s life at a time, certainly felt to me like a much easier approach. She then suggested that you could then weave a few of these into a story – trying to bring in national, international, social and family events to flesh out the stories and set your ancestor into context.

I’ve certainly been looking at how national and world events may have impacted on my relatives – looking at trends in silk and cotton weaving, the impact of the railways, enclosure acts, Cambridgeshire drainage acts, and of course the horror of wars.

Like Mike Petty, Kathy recommended turning to newspapers – not just the stories, but the adverts and reviews too – all which would help you to understand the world in which your relatives lived.

It was refreshing to hear Kathy give a shot of reality with her comments on being realistic about the publishing of the book – recommending that you should probably just stick to publishing it yourself within your family, and not a publisher. She amplified a message that I’ve heard regularly – file a copy of your book with relevant archives and organisations.

Recharged with enthusiasm to get stuck in to what was the 5th of my 5 New Year Genealogy Resolutions for 2014, I hope to at least be able to decide whether I’m going to aim for a novelised or non-fiction approach.

Another great genealogy fair!

I’d like to say thank you to all of the speakers that I saw, and also to the hard work of the Cambridgeshire Family History Society team who organised the event. It’s great to see this growing, and I look forward to next year’s event.

Exhibitors at The Cambridgeshire Family History Fair 2014.
Exhibitors at The Cambridgeshire Family History Fair 2014.

In the meantime, The Big Family History Fair organised by the Huntingdonshire Family History Society returns in May 2015.

Wordless Wednesday – Gottle O’ Geer

Wordless Wednesday – Frederick Vernon Cross with his ventriloquist dummies in 1909 (aged 13.5yrs).

Frederick Vernon Cross (1909)
Frederick Vernon Cross (1909)

5 great Cambridgeshire life museums you’ll also find on Twitter

Alongside genealogy, sits my interest in local history, and so I’m no stranger to many of the great museums we have here in Cambridgeshire – as they are incredibly insightful on the historical context in which my ancestors lived.

Many museums have adopted social media, seeing its importance in connecting community to its history, and using it to promote events and give behind the scenes glimpses of their work and activities that would otherwise go unseen by the public. Many are using multiple channels like Facebook, Google+ and YouTube, and some are also blogging.

Here’s 5 of my favourite Cambridgeshire Museums that are also using Twitter. They’re in no particular order, as i have no wish to be barred from these great places!

1. Denny Farmland Museum and Abbey

There’s lots to be found at this part-English Heritage site. The Farmland Museum acts as a great reminder of the lives of my agricultural ancestors, with the fantastic backdrop of an Abbey.

Teatime
Eternal teatime (perfect!) in the period cottage at Denny Farmland Museum and Abbey.

The period cottage is a great place to explore, and really reminds me of some of the ‘gadgets’ that my great grandparents had.

2. The Norris Museum

The Norris Museum sign
The Norris Museum, St Ives, Cambridgeshire.

The Norris Museum is my closest museum. It’s a little tucked away through a doorway, and across a garden, beside the river in St Ives, but once inside, you’ll find that the museum is packed with local artefacts – ranging from dinosaurs, Romans, Oliver Cromwell, those witches of Warboys, and ice skating. There’s much more too, and a regular series of events and exhibitions.

You can find them on Twitter at @TheNorrisMuseum

3. Peterborough Museum

Edwardian Operating Theatre at Peterborough Museum
The Victorian Operating Theatre at Peterborough Museum – the museum was once a hospital, and so this room has been returned to look like it once did.

I first visited Peterborough Museum with a couple of the team from Living TV’s Most Haunted show, as part of an overnight ghost hunt event! There’s no better way of getting to know a museum, than being locked in the cellar in the pitch dark at 2am.

Since then, the museum underwent a year-long radical remodelling with a £3.2m price tag – and is now vastly improved (although I can’t vouch for that cellar yet). New rooms and displays, with greatly improved cabinets and touch-screen information points, make the museum much more interesting and interactive. They’ve even added a cafe.

The Changing Lives collection documents Peterborough’s 200 year evolution from village to industrial city – using film, audio, and a range of objects – and is a useful reference point for anyone researching family life in this area.

You can find them on Twitter at @Vivacity_Museum

4. Ely Museum – at The Old Gaol

I’m a Friend of Ely Museum, and have been for a few years. There’s a couple of reasons behind this, and they’re both through my genealogical research.

Firstly, during the 1816 Littleport Riots, one of my 5x Great Grandfathers (John Goltrip) was arrested and accused of stealing some silver spoons. He would have been held prisoner here, in this old gaol. The museum has mocked-up what the cells would have looked like, along with the restraints that the prisoners would have been constrained with.

Inside the Cells
A recreation of what conditions would have been like inside the gaol. My ancestor would have spent some time here in 1816 after his role in the Littleport Riots.

Secondly, in another room there’s a ventriloquist’s dummy and a series of theatre posters – these relate to my distant cousin Vernon Cross (3rd cousin, once removed no less!) – who not only ran the family bakery on Forehill, and was a ventriloquist and magician, but he also founded a huge collection of antiquities, which have since gone on to form an important part of the museum’s collection. A function room at the museum was named after him.

The museum is new to Twitter, but you can find them at @ElyMuseum.

5. The Cambridge & County Folk Museum

Cambridge & County Folk Museum
The Cambridge & County Folk Museum. Photo: Janet Swisher via Creative Commons.

The Cambridge & County Folk Museum stands not far from the Cambridgeshire Archives. It is home to a great collection of local artefacts that depict every-day life in the city and in the surrounding fenland. It’s been a while since i’ve visited, but I remember walking in and spotting many items that I remember my grandparents and great grandparents having in their homes.

You can find them on Twitter at @FolkMuseum.

What about the rest?

There’s around 30 museums in Cambridgeshire. Some of them are also using social media. Aside from Following or Liking them, why not visit when you’re next in the area?

Check out my Twitter list of Cambridgeshire Museums.

Surname Saturday: CROSS

Information about the CROSS family from Ely, Cambridgeshire and their impact on the city, and travels to Australia.

Four centuries living in Ely, the Cross family is also one of the largest and most far-reaching.

With one of the earliest mentions of the family being a baptism in 1669 at Ely’s Holy Trinity Church, the Cross family went on to rapidly grow in to one of the largest families I have researched.

A growing family

My most recent Cross ancestor was my Great Great Grandmother, Mary Ann Cross who was born in ‘Buggs Hill’ (Cambridge Road), Ely in 1870, as the daughter of George Cross and his wife Sabina Steadman “Vine” Taylor. Following on with her parents’ business skills, she opened a shop on the corner of Barton Road and Cambridge Road in Ely which she traded from until her death in the 1950s. The shop closed in the 1980s and is now a private house.

Whilst Mary Ann was just the only one of George and “Vine”‘s two children to survive into adulthood, her father was one of 12 children. His father Jacob Cross, was in turn one of 11 children, and his father Philip Cross was one of around 15 children! As you can imagine, the potential for descendants from all of these children from the 3 generations is high and resulted in a large Cross population in and around Ely during the 1800s.

Finding a new life

For some though, Ely was perhaps too small with all these relatives around in the mid 1800s. Cross family groups like that of (another) George Cross and his wife Julia decided to start afresh in Australia. In 1855 they emigrated, following their older son Matthew who had already gone there to mine for gold. Julia was literate and a great letter writer, and a book of letters that she wrote to her mother back in England has been compiled and is now sold at Ely Museum.

Descendants of the Australian Cross families are many, but one – Pamela Phyllis McClymont – decided to set up the ‘Cross Family History Society’. Sadly Pam died several years ago, but she was pleased to pass a lot of information on about the family, including her own book ‘Who’s Who: Cross Family (Volume One, 1997)’ which details no less than 372 descendants from that 1669 baptism.

The Museum and the Tea Shop

One of the Ely’s Cross residents, Frederick Vernon Cross (known as just Vernon Cross) took on his father’s thriving bakery business on Forehill in the centre of the city. He transformed the business from being just a bakery into what is seen as Ely’s first tea shop, running regular advertisements in newspapers for delicious cakes and tea.

Part of the shop also became a space for Vernon to display the artefacts that he had found with his father at nearby Roswell Pits. These included many fossils and bones and his growing collection had begun to dominate the shop. On Vernon’s death in 1976, his private collection was saved by the then recently founded Ely Museum Trust. Today, the museum marks Vernon’s contribution to the collection with ‘The Vernon Cross Meeting Room’. Vernon also published an autobiography titled ‘Cross Words’, detailing his family, childhood, the bakery and his time at war.

The shop is now part of The Royal Standard public house, but if you go in, you’ll find that there are photographs on the wall of the old shop and even one of the shop signs is hanging on the wall as a nod to its history.

Check out the CROSS family at The Family Tree UK.